Festival of Lights to burn bright

Belleville DowntownImprovement Area executive director, Marijo Cuerrier, is surrounded by council members, staff and volunteers at the Festival of Lights announcement at Jane Forrester Park Friday morning. BRUCE BELL jpg, BI

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The lights still burn brightly for best friends Billy Foster and Art ‘Sonny’ Culloden.

The pair were killed in an auto accident on Christmas Eve in 1958 and a year later the first Christmas-lights display appeared on the front lawn of Billy’s parents Don and Rita Foster.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of what is now officially called the Belleville Festival of Lights Display and it’s an anniversary the city won’t let go by unnoticed.

On Friday morning, city officials, committee members and volunteers gathered at Jane Forrester Park to hear about upcoming celebration plans.

Events will take place every Friday night for six weeks. It kicks off Friday, Nov. 15 with an opening ceremony, including fireworks, Santa and Mrs. Claus, refreshments, horse-drawn carriage rides and music. Everything will be free of charge.

Culloden’s sister, Annis Ross, now serves as chairperson of the city’s lighting display and gateway signage committee. Her family still remain active in support of the display.

“Our family is so grateful to so many people over the years who have lovingly taken care of this display and restored it,” she said. “Now the City of Belleville has taken this on — it’s so important to help people understand there is always hope, light at the end of tragedy and certainly that is what our family has experienced.”

Committee member, Coun. Sean Kelly said the six Friday nights leading up to Christmas will be fun for everyone at the park.

“This year we tried to think outside of the box and we are going to have a host, Scotty Lalonde, who will be the house DJ,” he said. “To kick it off we are going to have Freddy Vette and this summer at Zwick’s he drew over 2,000 people on a Sunday night so we know on Friday the 15th, we’ll have record numbers.”

There will be different artists every Friday night for the six weeks.

There will be free entertainment and city bus rides – from selected pickup points – on each of the six Friday nights preceding Christmas.

Belleville filmmaker Doug Knutson of Windswept Productions will produce a short documentary on this year’s festival in an effort to have it entered in next year’s Docfest.

Coun. Kelly McCaw said the history of the popular Christmas display is important.

“As time has gone by, there are fewer people here to tell the story to our children and grandchildren (because) it is an important part of our Belleville history and one that cannot be forgotten,” she said. “Members of our committee felt it was important to memorialize this most precious tribute to the two fine, young hockey players who were lost.”

Originally built on the front lawn of the Foster’s Emily Street home, the display eventually found its way to the lawn of Bruce and Marjorie Nickle on Marsh Drive for a few years. Then, after several years at Tom Gavey — Alemite Ball Park, the display was relocated in 2012 to Jane Forrester Park home and now, after seven years at the corner of South Front Street and Harbour Drive, organizers have decided to move the display east across the park to be closer to the parking lots.

The display consists of approximately 40 pieces, including some from the original Foster display.

“This will be the first year we are re-orienting the site plan and layout of the display, so instead of the original Foster display and other components being here on the commons, we are re-locating that to the other side of the park, the parking lot side,” Ross explained. “The actual displays will certainly expand around the park from there.”

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